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Breaking Away From Conditioning

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Nanyang Tech chapter.

What is social conditioning? It is defined by the United Nations Economic and Social commission for Western Asia as the “sociological process of training individuals in a society to act or respond in a manner generally approved by the society in general and peer groups within society. The concept is stronger than that of socialisation, which refers to the process of inheriting norms, customs and ideologies.” Something key that I would like to highlight is the part about inheriting traditions and ideologies which may or may not be toxic to one’s well-being. The dated worldviews from your parents and grandparent’s generation may be obsolete, and one that no longer exists in today’s VUCA world. This is particularly so in Asian households, where self-sacrifice, for example, in prioritising the collective over the individual, is a highly regarded value. For instance, in Indian culture, traditionally, marriages are arranged  as it is often used as a tool to bridge families to compound wealth like property, livestock and more.  Conflicts and issues that arise within the marriage are not usually solved by the couple alone, rather, it is instead settled by their families. There is also a preconceived expectation of what the ideal partner should be like. It can range from having a wealthy family, to good health, or even  having an easy-going personality. Such characteristics are prized because in one way or another, it is beneficial, valuable or useful to the family in which he or she is wedded into. But the question remains: Where did all these standards come from? Are they not simply gender stereotypes that have persisted even in the modern world? Furthermore, as a generation of youth with more modern thinking on stereotypes and expectations, how will such projected pressures benefit us in finding a partner who truly fits our unique personalities?

Although there is nothing wrong with adopting a more traditional outlook when it comes to looking for a future partner, I’m here to share with you how you can introspect your desires and test if they are truly your own, and not from a misplaced intention to please those around you. Do note that these tips are based on heterosexual norms as it inspects gender inequalities in heterosexual relationships. 

Checking the aptness of Gender Expectations in the Dating Realm:

1. Effort is 100/0. 

Contrary to popular opinion, for any relationship to work, 100% is needed from both parties.. There is an article which might explain this concept in more detail. Often, we grow up thinking that as girls, we need to play hard to get, and we should expect the men to go out of their way to do things for us. On the flip side, men may grow up thinking that they should not let the girl pay for anything in a relationship, as financial security is often associated with masculinity. In traditional heterosexual family units, men are usually the head of the household and their duty is to provide for his family. So, paying for the girl’s meals or material goods, is a way for them to prove that they can be proper heads of the household. But is this truly sustainable for a relationship to work? In the modern day and age, it is no hidden secret that the cost of living is rising each year. In the Singapore context, we currently have already seen a steep increase in food prices from 4.5% in May to 5.4% in June, and for prices of retail goods a 1.8% to 3.8% increase from May to June, due to the recent inflation caused by supply shortages from the easing of Covid restrictions in the region. How can one stay financially afloat if they keep up the tendency to have the need to lavish their partner with gifts and splurging on elevated dinner dates all the time? Hence, both parties should either go dutch or take turns in paying for food, etc, unless one can afford it. 

2. How well do know yourself?

Sometimes, we might question why love has never worked out for us before, and honestly, sometimes, it’s not a matter of bad luck.Rather, it may lie in something inherent about ourselves that we are not yet aware of Things like having the tendency to pick bad dates, or fall for people who will most likely break our hearts, may come from past trauma, where we attempt to recreate moments in a bid for redemption. Or sometimes it’s our ego talking. We chase after people who don’t reciprocate our interests, in order to feel better about ourselves, and not because  we actually like the person. Most, if not all of us, don’t actually know ourselves that well. As such, we tend to go into the dating realm with this image set by our parents or well-wishing family members on what to look out for and what not to settle for. Remember, at the end of the day, you do not want a trophy-husband to parade around for your family and friends. You want someone who can make you feel at ease in those quiet moments of mundane life, and someone who would hold your hand when the going gets tough.

3. There is no one-size-fits all solution when it comes to your ideal partner

As much as we grew up with the notion that we would all eventually find “The One” , it is good to keep in mind that, very much like ourselves, people come in all shapes and sizes. This applies to their quirks, habits, lifestyles, and even ways of thinking. It  is difficult, perhaps even impossible,  to find someone who ticks all the boxes of what the general consensus would deem as the perfect partner. So sometimes it’s about giving those people whom you might reject at first sight, a chance at love with you. Be open-minded and extend your presence in the dating world!

4. Is it truly taboo to date outside of one’s culture?

Growing up in Singapore as a local Chinese, it is no surprise to hear racist remarks and warnings about one dating outside of one’s culture. However, just because the older generation of people are stuck in that mindset of racial discrimination which has been taugh to them, such thinking cannot be passed down from our generation to the next.  It is our duty to break the cycle. We can give some acknowledgement about their concerns about how “being in a normal relationship is already hard, hence won’t the added factor of cultural difference make it harder to work?”. This applies to religious differences too. However, how many boundaries should we really place around love? In the case of religious concerns, some believe that dating out of one’s religion would dilute one’s conviction of their current faith. If having a partner from a different religion makes you lose faith in yours, it is perhaps food for thought that your faith might not have been on solid ground in the first place. There are also many stereotypes about people from different cultures, like how caucasian men are known to not take their relationships seriously, or that Indian men are abusive to their wives, etc. But these are simply generalisations from extreme cases, and not actual facts. Abusive and toxic men come from all backgrounds, races, and cultures. 

5. What is a proper dealbreaker? Is it yours or your parents?

We tend to carry so much of what isn’t ours to carry, be it an expectation, standards, and even deal breakers. It takes a lot of willpower and self-awareness to separate your personal standards from the voices of people around you. 

At the end of the day, your partner is someone whom you are marrying and not your parents, family or friends. The only ideals that have to be satisfied are yours. If you are happy, it will radiate outwards and reach the hearts of those who truly love you. If having a presentable son-in-law that is perfect on paper is what your parents want from you, it might in turn stand in the way of you and true happiness. Therefore, we  should reconsider whether well-meaning family members are truly looking out for your own good, or their own good. Heed your inner compass. At the end of the day no one will look out for you, or fight for your own best interests other than yourself. Do not let yourself down no matter what it takes.

Aline Ang

Nanyang Tech '24

Hoping to be the change for a better world... Email: enilaangjialin@gmail.com Insta: @lovethyself.lin